Activist state

Jury hears man discuss plan to kidnap Michigan Governor Whitmer

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FILE – In a photo provided by Kent County Sheriff, Daniel Harris is shown in a booking photo. Jury selection begins Tuesday, March 8, 2022, in the trial of four men accused of conspiring to snatch Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer in a staggering plan to retaliate against her stay-at-home policies and other COVID restrictions -19 during the first months of the pandemic. (Kent County Sheriff via AP File)

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On Thursday, prosecutors released a secret audio recording for jurors in which a man accused of a plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer specifically mentions the Democrat’s kidnapping.

In the recording from mid-July 2020 in Wisconsin, Barry Croft Jr. describes the possibility of using explosives to “rain” fire on law enforcement “with a team ready” to grab Whitmer.

He adds without providing details on any plan: “A quick accurate take” from the governor.

Four men are charged in the 2020 conspiracy. Prosecutors say they were angry at Whitmer’s pandemic restrictions.

Defense attorneys say the men were big talkers who were framed by government informants and FBI agents.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s previous story follows below.

Prosecutors in the trial of four men accused of planning to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer played for jurors on Thursday secret recordings of two of the men mentioning the Democratic governor and talking excitedly about taking action that would terrorize people.

“I’m going to strike soon,” Barry Croft Jr. hears during what prosecutors say was a pivotal June 6, 2020 meeting of anti-government activists in Ohio. “I will terrorize people. Good people. The people who terrorized my people.

A little later, Adam Fox is also heard on an audio recording recorded by an FBI informant, tossing around and telling the group, “You have to take hostages. This is your value.

Prosecutors say the men – Fox, Croft, Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta – planned to snatch Whitmer from her Michigan vacation home because they were angry at the pandemic restrictions she had imposed. They also planned to blow up a nearby bridge to slow the police response.

FBI agent Todd Reineck testified earlier Thursday that the men were arrested in the fall of 2020 because there was “a real concern that they might get real live explosives.” He also testified about the men’s social media posts and messages, some of which were posted months before any contact from FBI agents or informants.

“I want to make formal charges against our governor and the tyrants of our state. …Let’s do something … bold,” Fox said in a December 2019 Facebook video. In it, Fox is seen intermittently laughing and cursing at the government while waving two AR-style assault rifles in front of a camera.

Fox attorney Christopher Gibbons questioned Reineck about the process of paying informants in cash, their vetting before undercover work, and the choice of electronic devices they used. Reineck also admitted under questioning by Gibbons that Fox participated in certain legal protests at the Michigan Capitol.

During opening statements Wednesday in the Grand Rapids, Michigan courtroom, defense attorneys said the FBI tricked the men into participating in a plot to kidnap Whitmer.

The lawyers initially questioned whether the officers instigated the men to commit crimes they would not have considered on their own, known as entrapment. U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker then took the unusual step of allowing them to answer an entrapment defense.

Entrapment is a high risk defense because it is a concession that crimes may have been committed.

Croft’s lawyer says informants secretly taped the men while virtually everyone was ‘stoned, completely mad’, leading to some fantastic ideas including using a kite to transport Whitmer.

“They knew it was crazy talk and not a plan,” Joshua Blanchard said of the FBI.

Harris’s attorney, Julia Kelly, said the former Marine was attracted to an FBI informant called “Big Dan” because he posed as a firearms training instructor.

“Big Dan was the boss,” she told jurors. “How do I shoot out of a vehicle? Yeah, you’re gonna ask Big Dan. That’s what Daniel was looking for in the summer of 2020.”

Caserta attorney Michael Hills said attacking practice sessions in Michigan and Wisconsin were “Fed-sponsored events.”

Fox’s attorney also told jurors that “Dan” pressured him during visits to a Grand Rapids-area vacuum cleaner shop where Fox – a “misfit” – lived in the basement. He said “Dan” had a lot of credibility with those involved in the case, who saw him as a superior and wanted to please him.

But Assistant US Attorney Jonathan Roth said evidence would prove their desire to commit acts of violence regardless of anything informants did or suggested, telling jurors the men were ‘willing and eager’ and preparing for the crime before law enforcement got involved.

“If the accused was already ready to commit the crime, it is not a trap.” .

“These defendants were willing and willing, if not already prepared, to commit this crime long before law enforcement got involved,” he said.

He urged jurors to listen to the men’s own words, recorded in social media posts and by confidential informants. He described Fox and Croft as the masterminds of the plot and said the four wanted to create a “war zone here in Michigan”.

In one recording, Croft says Whitmer needs to be “suspended”.

“They weren’t all-talking people,” he said. “These are people who wanted to separate themselves from people who were all talking.”

Two critical insiders, Ty Garbin and Kaleb Franks, have pleaded guilty to the conspiracy and are expected to testify for the government.

In 2020, Whitmer was trading taunts with then-President Donald Trump about his administration’s response to COVID-19. His critics, meanwhile, regularly demonstrated at the Michigan Capitol, clogging the streets around the statehouse and legally carrying semi-automatic rifles into the building.

Whitmer, who is seeking re-election this year, rarely speaks publicly about the case and is not expected to attend the trial. She blamed Trump for stoking mistrust and fomenting anger over coronavirus restrictions and refusing to condemn hate groups and right-wing extremists like those accused in the plot. She said he was also an accomplice in the deadly January 6 Capitol insurrection.

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White reported from Detroit and Burnett reported from Chicago. Journalist John Flesher contributed from Traverse City, Michigan.

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Find full AP coverage of the Whitmer Kidnap Plot Trial at: https://apnews.com/hub/whitmer-kidnap-plot-trial